leading industry professional share tips on how to succeed as a fresh graduate.
The chance for career advancement is the top perk that millennials and many other employees look for in a job. Unfortunately, a lot of growth-oriented occupations are a bait and switch. The hiring process is frequently the last time your career development is mentioned at work. So how does a fresh graduate pick up the pieces and rise from being green into an industry veteran…Food industry professionals shared their career journeys right from the start at the AFMASS Youth Summit to inspire the youth on the value of hard work, tenacity and how to get the best out of their potential.
Linda Capwell – Regional Innovations Manager, Eastern & Southern Africa, Upfield kicked off the discussions with some interesting revelations on how she made use of her long holidays and rose from selling scratch cards to become a sought-after Brand Manager. Turns out the job she took as a way to kill time would later curve her career path.
“I’ve always considered myself an introvert, but I found it very interesting how I got the courage to basically approach anybody on the street, in the office, to buy a scratch card, to buy a line,” she said.
Passion unleashes creativity
Just like Linda, Keziah Wachuka – Head of Research & Development – Bio Food Products Limited, started her career while still on campus. She shared with the audience how her passion led her to take a step back from her highly esteemed position as a Food Safety & Quality Manager to a low position in Product development. It is that one move that has seen us now relish the Bio probiotic yoghurt, Greek yoghurt, and Coconut yoghurt; courtesy of a lady who was bold enough to break away from the status quo.
“Mine has always been passion. When you are new to the industry, I know the remuneration can be low, but your passion will drive you. And before you realize it, you’re going to be where you want to be,” she stated.
The panelists underscored the need for the older generation to help create a path for the youngins in the universities.
“Many people come out of high school or university without really knowing what they want to do and it’s simply because a lot has changed in our markets nowadays. The traditional courses that are now being taught are not really what is applicable currently,” Linda opined.
She also urged the youth to take initiative in their areas of interest saying, “If you feel there’s an area or a career you want to progress into, I think it needs to come in from you fast, then project it outward and then look for people who can actually help you map out your career.”
Mentoring the newbies
We definitely cannot talk about career growth without mentioning the role mentors have to play in that, but besides the common terms, the panelists introduced a not-so-familiar term along these streets, ‘sponsors’. While a mentor basically talks to you about how to navigate your career, sponsors talk about you to powerful people when you aren’t in the room hence moving you up the career ladder. Mentors can be anywhere in any organization but sponsors are restricted to one’s current organization.
“Then keep in mind that careers are no longer linear. Have a roadmap of what you want to do, but leave room for any unique possibilities that may arise during your career. Allow them to come in because they eventually actually end up helping you in your professional life. I believe there’s absolutely no skill you will ever gain that will not help you,” said Linda emphasizing that we shouldn’t look at career growth in terms of a ladder.
Early career grads, in Keziah’s opinion, should adopt a can-do mindset and seize any available attachment or internship opportunities, regardless of compensation.
“Take advantage of the opportunity to give it your best as soon as the door is opened for you, and you enter. Learn more about the company than simply what is going on in the lab. Don’t just stay there. You’ll probably discover an interest from it that you didn’t even know you have,” she said.
When you work in this field, you can’t stop reading because things are constantly changing. Don’t wait until you start working to join sites like LinkedIn which provide a wealth of information through industry-specific group conversations.
Keziah Wachuka – Head of Research & Development, Bio Food Products Limited
Willis Mitula – Head, Governance & Technical – Kenya Breweries Ltd, backed the other panelists’ view on being cross-functional.
“Within other departments, be cross-functional in problem-solving, in meetings, in engagement. It builds you up to broaden the directions in which you can move. But more importantly, it will somehow give you an edge when you start working with or managing teams that don’t necessarily share your profession,” he said.
He added, “So for example, in my case, my current role as Head of Governance, I lead people who are experts in different things. And I cannot be an expert in everything. So as you grow and start leading, people just get to know that you will not be the expert in what they do, but you will be able to find a way in which what they do helps the business grow in certain directions.”
When questioned about some of the most important qualities that have contributed to his success in his current position, Willis singled out passion and resilience.
“Even if you have challenges, make sure you see it through. By the time you are giving up the baton, someone else can take it and move with it. If there’s no one to move with it, just viciously work with it. So that’s what I can tell them,” he said.
Keziah exhorted the youths to continue nourishing their minds with knowledge in order to stay current on market trends.
“When you work in this field, you can’t stop reading because things are constantly changing. Don’t wait until you start working to join sites like LinkedIn, which provide a wealth of information through industry-specific group conversations,” she said.
Capacity building; helping the youth to help themselves
On the capacity building front, Dr. George Abong’ – Senior Lecturer, at the University of Nairobi, endorsed the food science programs available at various levels in the University of Nairobi, stating that about 85% of their courses incorporate experiential learning.
“That just works to mold the students to be able to fit in in the world,” he said.
As the Chairman of the professional body, the Food Science and Technology Platform of Kenya (FoSTeP-K), he highlighted how the platform contributes to capacity building through training and linking up students with internship opportunities.
On his part, Dr. John Muoria – Lecturer, JKUAT, and Chairman, Kenya Institute of Food Science & Technology, remarked that despite having highly capable students, the country lacks enough opportunities to accommodate them.
“But I would tell you like I told my students, you go over there and get aggressive, see everybody you can see, ask for every business card and every email till you get it. So I do believe that for you to succeed, you have to have a crucible moment. There has to be some need. You have to be able to quantify your accomplishment if you truly believe that you want to succeed,” he stated.
Dr. Augustine Okoruwa, FNIFST – Head of EatSafe Country Programs, GAIN Nigeria shed some light on Nigeria’s policies requiring each student to undertake a 6-month internship prior to graduation. In order to make sure that it’s not just theory, he added, institutions must adapt in the area of comprehending the distinction between theory and practice.
According to Dr. Okoruwa, pilot research facilities and units at universities could narrow the continent’s skills gap.
“If we want to build capacity universities should have pilot food processing plants whereby the theories of research and development, new product development, innovation, packaging development, quality control, and regulatory affairs management can be put into practice,” he said.
“The university should be able to provide solutions not theoretical solutions but solutions that work for the industry to make money and deliver safe food,” he added, emphasizing the importance of forging relationships with the private sector.
Dr. Abong’ noted the University of Nairobi ensures that its students pass through the installed pilot plant as a means of evaluating their aptitude for problem-solving.
He stated, “We presently have a working agreement with two companies, so they take at least 10-20 students each year who go for a full-year internship. This is really crucial.”
In addition, the University has an incubation setup where they offer innovative students a platform to develop their products while guiding them all through the conception to market launch.
The panelists rubberstamped the need to be affiliated with the various sector-focused professional bodies to tap into some member-exclusive opportunities.
“There is no place now where you will get ahead as a young student if you are not a member of some professional organization. If you don’t like your professional organization, look for a profession you like and become a member. So if you don’t belong somewhere, you’re just going to be a loner there and you’re not making networks,” Dr. Muoria said.
When discussing the integration of students into the commercial sector, he made the point that there needs to be a connection between the academic community, the student body, and the business community, with each side striving to play its part to the fullest.
“There has to be somebody who is not waiting for opportunities in his house. People shouldn’t just sit around in the office and hope that manna is going to fall from heaven, even manna they had to go get it from outside,” he commented.
This feature appeared in the November 2022 issue of Food Safety Africa. You can read the magazine HERE